- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Democrats who opposed the House-passed health care reform bill earlier this month have come under heavy fire from their party’s left, including a top Internet activist who urged liberals to halt further contributions to the Democratic Party committee that finances their campaigns.

After the House passed the sweeping $1.2 trillion health care reform bill on a razor-thin 220-215 margin, many of the 39 Democrats who voted against their party’s proposal were confronted by protesters outside their district offices or inundated by angry phone calls and e-mails when they returned home.

Some said the “no” votes were “a slap in the face” to the party and President Obama. First-term Rep. Suzanne M. Kosmas, Florida Democrat, was called “a traitor.” Rep. Larry Kissell, another freshman Democrat, from North Carolina, enraged liberal bloggers who had supported him.

Chris Bowers, a blogger on OpenLeft.com, urged Mr. Kissell’s campaign donors to demand their money back. In Utah, liberal Democratic state Sen. Scott McCoy threatened to oppose five-term Rep. Jim Matheson in next year’s primary election after he voted against the bill.

Mr. Matheson, a moderate who frequently votes with Republicans, said he opposed the bill on moral and fiscal grounds. A “one-size-fits-all nationally run plan that doesn’t acknowledge the different health demographics in the states isn’t the answer,” he said one day before he voted against the bill that was sent to the Senate.

The intraparty tensions are likely to be replicated as the debate shifts to the Senate, which is expected to begin its own floor debate this week.

Liberal groups already are scrutinizing the plans of a handful of moderate Senate Democrats who could hold the key to the debate. The defection of a single member of the Democratic caucus could spell disaster for the bill being put together by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The minority Republicans have largely avoided the same infighting, at least over health care. Among House Republicans, only one — freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana — voted for the reform bill, and no Republican senators are expected to support the Senate health care overhaul bill.

The surprisingly large number of “no” votes in the Democratic caucus led outspoken leftist blogger Markos Moulitsas, whose DailyKos.com is read by millions of “Netroots” activists, to call for a donor boycott of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which contributes heavily to members’ political campaigns.

The DCCC’s “first priority,” Mr. Moulitsas said, is “incumbent-retention, and they’re [necessarily] issue-agnostic. They’ll be dumping millions into defending these seats. Instead, give to those elected officials who best reflect your values.”

But a DCCC official last week sought to calm the widespread angst and anger that the “no” votes had triggered within the party, maintaining that there was far more political discord and division among Republicans than among the Democrats.

“House Democrats are independent voices and committed problem-solvers who put the communities of their district first. At the end of the day, House Democrats all share the same goal of making health insurance more affordable and ending a broken system,” a DCCC spokesman said.

But after one of those independent voices, Rep. Ike Skelton, 17-term Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, voted no, a crowd of unhappy protesters who favored the health care bill, led by Grass Roots Organizing, a local liberal activist group, gathered outside his Jefferson City office Nov. 9 to condemn his decision. Some pulled up in a rented Cadillac filled with uninsured people to call attention to the 77-year-old lawmaker’s generous congressional health insurance plan.

“We were trying to make the point that we are providing them with some great public health care choices. How can they then say that we can’t have what they’ve got?” asked Robin Acree, the group’s executive director. “I find that appalling.”

Rep. Harry Teague, New Mexico Democrat, also came under attack from the state’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union. “We think the health care plan that passed the House is the minimum that we can do,” said Carter Bundy, AFSCME’s legislative director in New Mexico.

In a statement just before the House vote, Mr. Teague said he would support any bill that guaranteed access to affordable health insurance and lowered health care costs to help reduce the budget deficit. “Unfortunately, the current bill before Congress falls short of that, and I am left with no choice but to vote against it,” he said.

In Alabama, state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said Democratic Rep. Artur Davis’ no vote was an act of betrayal.

“He was the only [Congressional] Black Caucus member to vote against it,” Mr. Sparks said Tuesday. “He has failed the people of Alabama miserably.”

Mr. Davis, who is in a race with Mr. Sparks for the governorship next year, said he opposed the bill on the floor after voting for it in the House Ways and Means Committee because he feared the public insurance option would encourage private employers to drop health coverage for their workers.

Even while getting grief on their left, the renegade Democrats are still facing heat from across the aisle. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) said voters should not be fooled by the Democrats’ internal family squabbles.

“These Democrats are attempting to curry favor by disguising their partisan stripes, but they are pleasing no one. Their liberal base is infuriated. They will get no reward from independent voters who know this is nothing more than a short-lived diversion from their otherwise reliable support of the [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi big-government agenda,” said Paul Lindsay, the NRCC’s spokesman.

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